People who live within one kilometer of hydraulic fracturing (also known as “fracking”) have more overall health symptoms than those who live two or more kilometers from it, according to a new study by The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, published in Environmental Health Perspectives.
Even when other factors such as age, smoking and work type were excluded, the number of reported skin conditions and the number of upper respiratory symptoms was higher in people who lived in closer proximity to a natural gas well.
The study involved a survey of 492 people in Washington County, PA, who lived in 180 randomly selected households. The households all had ground-fed wells and were within proximity of active natural gas drilling. Researchers then studied the relationship between proximity to the gas well and the reporting of various health issues, including “dermal, respiratory, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and neurological symptoms.”
Researchers found that the number of overall reported health symptoms per respondent was higher among. There was no correlation found between other respiratory, neurological, cardiovascular or gastrointestinal conditions.
The study’s authors noted that the results are only intended to generate hypotheses and the study was limited to households with a ground-fed water supply. They concluded that “proximity of natural gas wells may be associated with the prevalence of health symptoms including dermal and respiratory conditions in residents living near natural gas extraction activities.”
Among the reported skin conditions were rashes, dermatitis, irritation, burning and itching. Among the upper respiratory issues reported were allergies/sinus problems/itchy eyes, nose bleeds, stuffy nose and cough/sore throat.
Lawsuits have been filed against companies involved in fracking, alleging people who live near fracking sites have suffered health problems and/or have lost their livelihood because of fracking activities.
In their discussion, researchers noted that there were several possible explanations for the increased reporting in skin conditions in respondents who lived closer to the wells. Those explanations included water contamination, air contamination, stress or anxiety caused by living close to the gas well (although researchers said they adjusted for this awareness), or other allergens or chemicals not related to natural gas drilling. Researchers recommended that further study, including evaluation of air and water exposure, is needed.
The study confirms previous studies -- which tended to be small in sample size -- that found some reported symptoms were higher in people who lived closer to fracking sites. Among those cited by the National Institutes of Health were a study that found symptoms such as throat and nasal irritation, eye burning, headaches, loss of smell and nosebleeds were more common in people who lived near natural gas facilities.